Thursday 14 February 2008

Experiences from Mobile World Congress

So, back from Barcelona and I’ve got a few minutes to gather my thoughts on what I saw. It’s a lovely city and surprisingly warm in February — we even found time to lie on the beach and enjoy the surf!


The new Samsung F480 is trying to be an iPhone beater, complete with a touch screen and only three buttons, but they haven’t quite got the interactiveness of the UI. The interface is still a barrier between your finger and what you want to do.

One cool feature is the widgets screen. You can drag your chosen widgets on to and around the screen from the widget dock (or off the screen again). However, the widgets are built-in to the phone and there’s no facility to write new ones, nor to have widgets that connect to the net (as yet…).

The big adverts were for the SOUL, or U900. I found this phone really hard to use. It uses a four way button with a screen behind it to control navigation — good idea following on from the Optimus keyboard, but it wasn’t very responsive. I often found myself scrolling too far or not enough.

Sony Ericsson

Sony Ericsson seem to have got a really good idea of the people who actually use their phones and are continuing to target them very effectively. They were displaying lots of phones differentiated by use cases rather than by features. They’ve got phones for people who mainly want a music player, phones for people who mainly want a camera and phones for business people who want to sync their contacts and diary but don’t want a computer in their pocket. All of these still have the other features present but they’re less emphasised. It feels like a much better strategy than Nokia’s “let’s put everything in one package and let each user and each operator figure it out differently” approach. And the phones keep on getting slimmer and smaller (again unlike Nokia…).

As per David Wood from Symbian’s comments at MoMo London last week, Sony Ericsson are migrating their Symbian phones towards the lower end of the market just like Nokia. However, unlike Nokia they’re also keeping Ericsson Mobile Platform phones with the same or more capabilities and the lower-end Symbian candybar phones have been carefully designed to be simpler to use than the existing M600 and P-series. They’ve got touch screens, but you can quite easily get around using just the keys, leaving the stylus almost as an optional extra.

One surprise for me was their new Windows Mobile phone, the Experia X1. Why have they gone for Windows Mobile? They were touting their new UI which they couldn’t yet demonstrate… supposedly letting developers create a whole new way of using the phone for different use cases. For example, you could set up your standby screen to be your Google desktop, complete with connected widgets. Is this something they couldn’t do with UIQ?


I didn’t spend long on the Nokia stand, but I couldn’t see anything particularly new.

I found out later than the new N78 has an FM transmitter! Could be interesting for social interactions… It’s designed to transmit to your car stereo, but I wonder how tweakable it is.

NTT Docomo

The advantage of having a Mobile World Congress is that you get to see how the mobile market works in other cultures, including those that have been consistently ahead of ours in mobile technology. Japan’s NTT Docomo is one of the leaders here, and they had several displays that gave a new viewpoint on what we do.

  • Underwater phone: mobiles that are waterproof “especially for use in the kitchen”. No great technological advances here, but the sight of a phone in water with bubbles going round it was aesthetically pleasing — who hasn’t wanted to do this to their phone at some point :-)
  • Children’s phone, complete with a wristband phone finder: press the phone finder and your phone will make a noise. The phone can also be used as a safety alarm and can locate the child if they’re in trouble.
  • map i-appli: Direction-finding specifically including your train journeys
    “walk -> ride train -> walk … Complete support of railway networks”

The main thing that strikes me with Japanese interfaces is that they’re really text heavy. The pictoral nature of the language seems to mean that people are used to cramming a lot of information into a small space and the resulting interfaces look almost messy from a Western perspective.

LiMo Foundation

Showing off a fair spread of phones running on LiMo (mobile Linux). Including about 8 Motorola phones and not just the top-end weird ones either — one of them was a RAZR2 and another was a PEBL.

Shame that they haven’t got a decent UI yet…


Had their own pavilion on the avenue. Useful device with always on connectivity running Java apps written to JavaME with their own specific API extensions. Apps can be running all the time and can receive push events from the network — aimed at IM and similar.

They wouldn’t tell me how many Sidekicks are in the market in the UK (sold by T-Mobile complete with £7.50 web’n’walk as much internet per month as you want). Does anyone know?

Microsoft have just bought Danger (Andy Rubin’s old company)… Is this to compete with Android (Andy Rubin’s new platform)? Will this affect their Java-centric approach?

Other tech

  • Nuviphone
    Lots of advertising leading to a stand with four Nuviphones under glass, all displaying the same two screens (pixel identical). No UI demonstration and no information other than the press releases. Perhaps there’ll be an announcement later in the week…?
  • moduthe modular handset looks like an interesting idea. Other than the little module itself, the handsets they had were all mockups.
  • Readius phone with a folding screen — finally happening after years of promise.
    The screen’s great when it doesn’t have to change — just like paper with no backlight required.
    Not so good at changing though — it’s a very mechanical process and the whole screen has to invert and flash white before it can display something new

Mobile Testing

We’re doing more and more device testing at Kizoom, and it’s not getting any easier. I went around the software developers in Hall 7 trying to find ways of testing mobile applications, both Java-based and browser-based. Here’s some solutions:

  • Mobile Complete
    Scriptable — really good — check it out
    More devices for UK coming, but slowly. Depends on demand.
    Each new device takes 10 working days to set up. The iPhone took at little longer…
  • Zandan — emulate browser but test real network using modems
  • Adobe DeviceCentral — Flash only?
  • Yospace still running device emulators (though don’t advertise it too much any more)


Of course, thanks to the guys who invited me: the makers of J2ME Polish. They’ve just released version 2.0 which really does enable you to write once and build to most devices, from MIDP 1 through MIDP 2 to Android, Windows Mobile and even a pre-release output on an iPhone!

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